Press release

VR technology could revolutionise fire scene investigation

Published on 11 June 2024

Virtual reality (VR) technology to assist in the investigation of crime scenes and fires could soon be used across Europe

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A new protocol for capturing fire and crime scenes using VR technology is being developed by forensic scientists at the University of Dundee’s Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science (LRCFS), using footage of real fire scenes.

Working in partnership with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) and Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Forensic Services, the VR software has been successfully used in training exercises.

Interest in the technology has also been growing in Europe, and a demonstration will be held at the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI) fire and explosion investigation working group meeting, later this year.

Professor Niamh Nic Daeid, Director of LRCFS and leader of the work, said, “Introducing new technologies into the justice system has to be done carefully so that the scientific standards required by the courts are met.

“Working in partnership with practitioners from different agencies, as well as our legal colleagues, will bring us closer to using VR both for training but also potentially in casework.”

To create immersive VR representations of fire scenes, mocked-up units to replicate residential rooms are created and then burned, to allow genuine investigation to take place.

Shipping container with window on left which is broken and flames are coming out of it. Firefighters at door in centre holding hoses and spraying water in through the door.

Footage of the damage caused by these fires is recorded with a traditional camera and turned into an immersive VR experience, allowing investigators to revisit the scene numerous times in its immediate aftermath and facilitating the use of the same scene in multiple training sessions. 

Fire investigators and forensic scientists can use this virtual investigation tool, alongside traditional briefing methods, to estimate the start point, cause and development of the fire.

The most recent of these controlled fires took place on Wednesday June 5, at a training and research facility in Portlethen, Aberdeenshire, which opened last year.

The Scottish Fire Investigation Training and Research Facility was established to facilitate competency training for fire investigators from SFRS and SPA Forensic Services. 

Representatives from SFRS, SPA Forensic Services, LRCFS, and independent fire investigation body, Hawkins, were in attendance and took part in a workshop with the VR software, following the burn. 

Three people standing at a fence looking over it at something out of shot. Two women, one wearing a high visibility jacket, and one man

Steven Corrigan, SFRS Group Commander, said, “Exercises such as this controlled burn are important and hugely worthwhile for fire investigators to train in a unique and dynamic environment.

“By simulating fire scenarios and using VR technology to revisit the scene, our fire investigators will be able to identify causes of fires and how these may be prevented.

“SFRS is committed to investing in prevention and protection, and events such as these are hugely important to our ongoing fire investigation training.”

Karen Robertson, Forensic Lead for SPA Forensic Services, said, “This innovative facility allows SPA Forensic Services to work with live test burns and use the latest technology to improve the high-quality fire investigations we deliver as part of our commitment to scientific excellence.

“This novel approach created by LRCFS has now been adopted by SPA Forensic Services, through significant work delivered by Police Scotland Digital Division.”

VR tool tested by fire investigators

The VR tool was previously trialled by SFRS and SPA Forensic Services using footage LRCFS researchers obtained while working with Danish Police fire investigators, who created controlled fires within a variety of buildings in Denmark in a collaborative project with the University of Dundee team.

Man standing side on wearing a virtual reality headset over his eyes, with a large screen behind him displaying a room burnt out by fire

Using the immersive technology was shown to increase the number of investigators who were able to determine crucial factors relating to origin and development of the fire, as reported in the team’s academic paper, published by Springer Link and available to view online.

Some participants could recall the layout of the scene and draw accurate sketches, including of objects and burn patterns after reviewing the scene in VR.

Vincenzo Rinaldi, VR Specialist at LRCFS who is developing the software, says that the technology allows the fire or crime scene to be brought to the investigator, instead of the other way round.

“Our results showed there was a general improvement in the formulation of hypotheses of the cause and origin of the fire and its development,” Vincenzo said.

“We did two rounds of testing. The first was using traditional documents, 2D digital photographs of the scene, which is what currently happens, and the second integrated these photographs with a VR reconstruction of the crime scene.

“There was a greater confidence in the hypothesis being presented when VR was included alongside traditional documents.”

The recording process was originally designed by PhD student Sang-hun (Sean) Yu, who is jointly supervised by LRCFS and the University’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

The team are continuing research to further improve the quality of the footage and develop the technology into a professional tool.


Sheanne Mulholland

Media Relations Officer

+44 (0)1382 385423
Story category Public interest, Research